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Morality Unit  12

How are our ideas of morality similar to and different from the morality of those from the past?


The Inferno Cantos I, III, V, VI, and XIV

Longfellow and Mandelbaum (more modern) translations available at Digital Dante


Dante’s Divine Comedy is based on an allegorical journey. The walk through a dark and confusing world represents the life journey of men and women, who often become entangled in daily affairs and lose their way. The work assumes two levels of meaning: external (temporal) and internal (spiritual). Dante’s extensive literary treatment of death and afterlife aims to both comfort and warn; he envisions rewards for the righteous and doom for the unrepentant.

The Comedy (“divine” was added 200 years later) is structured in three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Each section is comprised of 33 cantos with one canto for the introduction equaling a total of 100 cantos. Dante’s character begins in Inferno and climbs upward to attain a view of higher places. The upward journey represents the human ideal of striving for temporal and spiritual perfection. By using Virgil as his guide, Dante gives the work epic and classical dimensions.


Activating Strategy/Acquisition Lesson:

Show class segments of music videos and movie clips compiled on prepared PowerPoint. Clips are based on songs/movies centered on journeys (“Two Highways,” The Road, Road Trip, National Lampoon’s Family Vacation, Apocalypse Now, “A Horse With No Name,” “Long and Winding Road”). Ask students to find the common element in the clips.

Survey the class on what it means to get off “the straight road” or to stay on “the straight and narrow.” Extend the image of the straight road to the idea of taking a journey on a road and introduce the analogy of a journey through life.


Introduce Dante as a great medieval Italian poet. Tell students that for Dante the journey through life meant staying on the straight road to righteousness. He constructed, by means of literature, his vision of an afterlife, taking into consideration possibilities for all choices of lifestyle. These included heaven, hell, and purgatory (a place to “work off” sin before entering heaven).  Stress that The Inferno is being read as literature and not as religious doctrine.

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